In a year that saw unprecedented school closures, school liaison officer took on a new meaning. But Erica Lewis was up to the challenge.
Lewis became the school liaison officer for Child and Youth Services in February 2020 – just one month before COVID-19 arrived and severely curtailed installation services. The SLO assists transitioning families with all of their educational needs, from sharing information about local schools and graduation requirements to providing home school support to getting kids linked up with after-school services and programs.
Lewis spoke about her first year as school liaison officer, the experience of guiding the program through COVID-19 and her hopes for the future as Redstone Arsenal – and the world around it – emerges from the pandemic.
Tell us a little about yourself.
I am a mother to two beautiful girls, I have two daughters, a 16- and 10-year-old. I am a dog mom, I have a puppy – a Yorkie – I love him so much. And I am a military spouse. We moved here in July of 2019 from Michigan. We have kind of been all around but I am originally from Mississippi so we are glad to be stationed back in the South and a little bit closer to home. I love spending time with my family – I’m a big sports fan. I love basketball and football. I’m a proud HBCU (historically black college and university) alum- I graduated from Mississippi Valley State University with my B.S. in elementary education. I got my first master’s degree in counseling psychology from Texas A&M University-Central Texas, and my second master’s degree in social work from Louisiana State University.
Why did you take the school liaison officer position?
I thought that this would be a perfect position because I felt like I had experience from all sides. I was an educator in the classroom teaching military students, I was a school counselor and I worked at a military populated school, so I worked with military students helping them deal with deployed parents and issues related to transition. Being a military parent, (I knew) navigating new schools for each move and making sure your kids were OK socially, being a military spouse and knowing the stress that comes with every move and how to manage everything while keeping your sanity and your family intact – I had that experience and I could relate to the parents who contacted me because I have been there, I understand. I knew I could advocate for military students because I have two of my own and have had to do that before. I knew I could talk to educators about transitions for military students and how that can impact them academically, emotionally and socially – because I have seen it firsthand.
What are your responsibilities?
My main role is to serve as a conduit of information. I inform the (Garrison) commander of what is going on in the schools and I assist military families with school and transition issues. I facilitate quarterly education meetings with the commander and education administrators from the surrounding school districts to keep them informed on what is happening on the Arsenal. (These meetings) address any concerns they might have, (enable) a productive dialogue to come up with solutions and strengthen the relationship with our partners in education. I help coordinate efforts for Impact Aid each fall and also provide school information to incoming and outgoing military families and connect them with the SLO at their new duty stations. I assist parents with the educational process, advocate for children with special needs and refer families to specific agencies to resolve situations, depending on what the family needs.
How has COVID-19 affected your job and the program?
Oh, wow. The pandemic happened a month after I started my job as the SLO. It definitely has put a damper on how we are used to operating, but I feel like it helped me sharpen my technical skills. I have had to expand how I communicate with families, co-workers and colleagues – which is not entirely a bad thing. I have gotten better at using online platforms to execute my job responsibilities. So, it has affected it – slowed it down a bit – but we are here working for families if they need us. But it is permanent change of station season now so we have been picking up, it is getting busier.
What do you enjoy about your position as the RSA school liaison officer?
I really enjoy connecting with the families – seeing where they are coming from, what experiences they have had and what their needs are. I feel that it is my role to try to make the transition as smooth as possible because I know as a military spouse and a mom of two school-aged kids, how difficult and challenging it can be as you are getting ready to move. There are a lot of unanswered questions and a lot of unknowns, so it really helps to have someone there who can fill in those gaps of information that you don’t have. It shows those families that there is a resource out there designed to help them make the transition a whole lot smoother. Getting those thank you emails makes my job easier and makes it worth everything I do.
What do you hope to achieve for the program in 2021?
I want the military families to know that I am here, I am a resource if you need me. Before the pandemic hit, we had the Youth Sponsorship Program. One of my goals is to get that program back up and running and for it to be a place our youth and military kids can participate in – let them know that socially, emotionally and academically, we are here for them. With the program we can set them up with another local military youth that can tell them about the area and mentor them, someone who can be that support for them and let them know they aren’t alone. (COVID-19) has affected the way everyone operates, not just kids. It has affected how they react socially because it has affected our social interactions. So, it has made it difficult for some of our teens and students in our program, because the middle school teen program (on Redstone) had to shut down. But it has recently opened back up and we would love to have the kids back. I want the readers to know that we are open for business and we welcome our youth and teens back.
Lewis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, by office phone: 842-9642 and by cell at 947-1576.